A Note on Gambling

I find it quite interesting noting the reactions of various people to gambling. As you probably know by now, I play a "little bit" of online poker, and have once in awhile been known to throw away some money playing blackjack or craps at a casino. I guess part of it is that my Dad's side of the family (which happens to be Chinese) is a group that loves to gamble. The other part of it is my love for any sort of game that involves some thought. There definitely is a bit of a thrill when you win at a gambling game. The more money at stake, the bigger the thrill when you win. I experienced this particular phenomena when I managed to get in on Mansion's $1000 free bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers at the start of last year's NFL football season. My friend Mike and I sat in front of the TV glued to it until the last play of the game and we were cheering like crazy throughout the game. When there's a fair amount of money on the line, it's exciting and fun.

So it's pretty easy to see how the gambling thing can be a problem. Fortunately for me, I know enough about the math behind the games that I know who has the edge most of the time. I would never slap down a $1K bet without first making sure that I was a) sure that my edge was there, and b) sure that I was okay with losing that money if worst came to worse.

So I don't really truly gamble in the same way that so many people get themselves in trouble do. I mostly play poker where I have definitely shown that I have an edge for the limits that I play. The couple of times I've done other gambling, I've either known I had an edge (like that $1K free bet at mansion where the edge was huge since it was free), or I've been willing to throw away $60 playing blackjack or craps for a couple hours.

Playing poker so much though has changed my outlook on a lot of things. One thing that is definitely different is my outlook on money is a little different. Once you've played poker for awhile, the face value of the currency you're playing with changes. It kind of loses its meaning in the sense that $100 is just a stack of chips you could lose or win at any given moment. It's kind of weird, but being able to sit down for a few hours and win a couple hundred dollars playing $100NL with .5/1 blinds makes it possible for me to add to my yearly revenue by a significant amount. It's only really bounded by the amount of time I have to play (which these days isn't that much, but I still get in a few sessions most weeks).

I kind of think that that effect of poker on my life has been a bit negative. It's hard to regain a respect for how much money is worth and how hard it is for most people to earn it after you've played online poker seriously for as long as I have (and I haven't really been playing that long really). The other negative aspect that is less severe for me is a bit of a crisis of conscience when you realize that the money you're winning is being taken from the wallets of people who may not have the self control to realize that they've lost next month's rent cheque. I deal with that thought with the following argument: "Will those players stop playing if I don't play? No. Well then I'm not changing anything by playing and being the one to take that money from them". Think that's faulty reasoning? Let me know. I'm curious about this issue. Without a doubt, it is a parasitic action, but I'm not sure what I can do about the other person's problem - particularly if they are an unknown person I'm facing through online poker (which is how I play the bulk of the time).

So there's some negative effects of playing poker, but there's a lot of reasons that I continue to play. The financial results certainly don't hurt, but it's not just that. I enjoy the competition. Playing these games lets me battle wits with other players and it can keep me sharp. When I'm playing my best, I'm seeing a lot of things happen in front of me and I can tell you a lot of what's going on.

Playing good poker also teaches patience and handling of tough times. The variance in poker is sky-high, and that means that to play well you have to be able to take the tough luck hands without letting them get to you or you'll start playing poorly (on tilt as it were). You need to be able to objectively back away from a particular situation and assess whether you indeed made the appropriate decisions regardless of the outcomes. This is a skill that helps a lot with life.

Poker contains a lot of mathematics, some of it simple, some of it quite a bit more complex. There is a lot you can do with math (despite people who will tell you that poker is primarily a psychological game), and learning to apply math to specific situations in poker is an essential skill to getting good at the game. Likewise, mathematics helps you with situations in life too. To tell you a quick story, my mom was telling me about some advice she heard some people were giving in a "learn what to do before retiring" seminar. The advice was that you should replace all your appliances a year before retiring, with the idea being that these appliances would then not likely need replacing throughout retirement saving a lot of stress. This advice struck me as pretty wrong considering that there was no part of this advice that took into consideration how old the existing appliances were. You might be replacing an appliance that is still working great and has an expected lifetime of 5 or 10 more years - effectively throwing away part of your existing investment in the appliances you currently own. And who's to say the appliances you buy aren't going to fail during your retirement? The proper solution here is to replace appliances that need replacing, and wait until your other appliances require replacing. Meanwhile, the money you didn't spend on new appliances gains interest. I fail to see why this is a worse solution.

My life has been affected drastically because of my time spent playing poker. For the most part, I think it has been for the better. I feel like I am able to keep myself sharper and more able to analyze situations objectively, and the monetary considerations certainly don't hurt.